The Cultural Revolution is “so last week,” at least as far as the young artists (born after 1976) featured in “We Chat: A Dialogue in Contemporary Chinese Art” are concerned. For these creatives, the one-child policy has always been around (it was abolished only at the end of last year), the skyline of their cities is continually evolving and Mao Zedong was a Communist Party leader relegated to the history books.
Guest curated for Asia Society Texas Center by Barbara Pollack, the exhibit takes its title from the mobile messaging app that sports more than 600 million users worldwide, emphasizing the dependence on Internet culture for this younger generation. While not all ten of the participating artists currently live in China, they all have been influenced by a period of rapidly expanding economy, increased freedom and greater career opportunities.
No Man City, a massive 25-foot-wide sculpture of white Tyvek on acrylic, is sublime perfection. Morphing from a three-tiered symmetrical city to a deconstructed and geometric inverted cone, it's all shadows and light. Artist Jin Shan has a great back story (he once installed a life-size fountain, a replica of himself, standing and peeing into a canal); this piece is decidedly more traditional, paying homage to his father, a classically trained painter who made backdrops for Chinese opera. A ceiling-hung mobile casts shadows across the room of a crane, a peony and the rising sun, all images found in both classical paintings and his father's work.
Liu Chuang dabbles in conceptual art, and for his Love Story (1) installation, the artist was moved by the loneliness and longing found in the migrant workers of Chenzhen, far away from their families and homes. At a street corner lending library, Liu discovered that people wrote all kinds of things in the margins of romance novels. The books are displayed on a table, with color-coded rocks giving clues to the translated-into-English messages written on the walls.
Pixy Yijun Liao and Guo Xi experiment with role-swapping and alter-identities. Liao has been participating in an ongoing photography series titled “Experimental Relationship” that challenges the dynamics of power within heterosexual couples. Her Japanese boyfriend must have a sense of humor: In Home-made Sushi, she placed him prone on a bed, nude and resting on blankets, bound together like a giant piece of nigirizushi. Guo, on the other hand, invented an artist (named Jia Siwen) and then created a scenario whereby his work was lost in transport. The artist then converses with his fake-self through emails, letters and wall text.
Brooklyn-based Bo Wang offers several photographs from his “Heteroscapes” cities. The artist is inspired by the rapidly changing landscape of his hometown, Chongqing, as well as the writings on heterotopias by philosopher Michel Foucault. Chen Wei captures this generation's need for escape through dance clubs with nightclub-inspired photography.
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Paintings also are represented in the show, including two monochromatic works by Shi Zhiying (one referencing a 195-pound meteorite that fell in rural China in 1995); and graffiti-esque pieces by Sun Xun that feature anthropomorphic animals as allegories (a movie camera represents government surveillance, while a gas mask calls attention to Beijing's pollution).
The remainder of the exhibit is composed of videography by Ma Qiusha (a razor blade in the mouth symbolizes her pain at being labeled an artistic talent in kindergarten, and the ensuing years of rigorous training), while animator Lu Yang, in her video Moving Gods, has posed straight-faced men in front of Buddhist iconography accompanied by the thumping sounds of techno-music.
There's a talk with artist Pixy Yijun Liao and curator Barbara Pollack on Sunday, April 24 at 2 p.m.
“We Chat: A Dialogue in Contemporary Chinese Art” continues through July 3, at Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore, open Tuesdays to Fridays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 713-496-9901, asiasociety.org/texas. Free to $5.